Posted: November 01, 2010

Top Company 2010: Odell Brewing Co.

Winner in the consumer category

Maria Martin

TopCo_OdellBrewing_Nov.jpg

Walk into the main entrance on your way to Odell Brewing Co.'s tasting room and you'll pass a reception area decorated with signs that will catch your eye.

On a warm September afternoon in Fort Collins, the sun illuminates one sign that reads "The Charity of the Month: Butterfly Pavilions."

"We're proud of our outreach programs," says Corkie Odell, one of the three primary owners, along with Doug Odell, the founder, and his wife Wynne, the CEO. "We let an employee-based committee choose the charity categories every month."

So if you head into Odell and get a tasting sample of several beers, your $4 will likely go to help charities involved in education, environment or humanitarian causes.

The awards hanging on the wall aren't just for the brewery's lauded Easy Street Wheat, 90 Shilling or 5 Barrel Pale Ale, though you'll see plenty of those golden pendants, as well.

Odell's recent expansion of its brewery and headquarters was ranked No. 1 in the commercial category this year as part of the Colorado Sustainable Design Awards, a competition sponsored by ColoradoBiz; the American Institute of Architects, Colorado; and the Urban Land Institute. And 5280 magazine gave the company the coveted "Brewery of the Year" award.

"Wynne, Doug and I have worked together for 21 years," says Corkie, who calls herself "the co-owner and culture maven." Most of the human resources responsibilities fall to her, she says.

"The three of us comprise the board of directors," she says, greeting a young man serving thirsty customers in the tap room. "We're all very, very different, but we respect each other's strengths."

Corkie wanders through the brewery, past the brew kettles, bottling line and beer tanks, waving at employees along the way. The smell of malted barley permeates most of the nearly 50,000-square-foot building, which has recently grown. Solar panels on the roof - 350 of them - mean the plant will save money down the road, and help the environment.

Odell employs more than 60 people who work in everything from the production area to outside sales. Say "manufacturing plant" and visions of tired-looking factory workers come to mind. Not so here.

Everyone from the woman offering a tour to the man in the bottling line grins and waves at Corkie, clearly a popular boss.

"We really do value our employees' ideas and knowledge," she says. "We want them to be engaged in what we do. We know they can make a difference."

They may also be happy to know that at the end of their workweek, they can bring home a few six-packs of the beer that's so popular in nine states. And a post-shift beer, be it the seasonal Isolation Ale or a bourbon stout, will keep moods elevated, as well.

From its start in 1989, when the three Odells converted a 1915 grain elevator, to the splendid building that catches eyes today, it's clear that this brewery has evolved.

"Doug started in Seattle with home brews, and all his friends said his beer was better than all the others," Corkie says, walking past a 200-barrel fermentation tank.
"I talked them into coming to Colorado, and this outdoorsy college town."

The philosophy of the company is simple, Corkie says.

"What you see is what you get." She grins and waves at the people in the bottling area. "We want to make the best possible beer, and serve it fresh. Everyone who works here believes in that. We're authentic."
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Maria Martin is a freelance writer.

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